Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I'm Buffy. The vampire slayer. And you are?"
-Buffy, Ep: Anne

Books In Classrooms

Camille at Book Moot pointed out this great comic strip from For Better or For Worse.

I LOVE books, all kinds, all types. But I fear books being used in classrooms, for just the reason set forth in this strip.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Narnia

An interesting article about C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and criticisms of both from the Chronicle of Higher Education: For The Love Of Narnia. (My favorite part may be pointing out that Lewis was a veteran of the trenches in World War I.)

I previously posted about the book and movie here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Welcome to Sunnydale. A clean slate, Buffy, that's what you get here. What's past is past. We're not interested in what it says on a piece of paper. Even if it says -- whoa."
-- Principal Flutie, Ep: Welcome to the Hellmouth

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Downfall

Downfall is a German movie about the last week of the Third Reich, told from the perspective of those closest to Hitler.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (reviewed by me here) addresses the children who grew up in Nazi Germany and how they were manipulated. It includes looking at those affected by Hitler.

Downfall is about the adults: those who let it happen. Those who were part of it. It's all to easy to look at Hitler as some lunatic; by doing so, it lets us distance ourselves from those who were seduced and manipulated. Silly people, we would never do that! If HY cautions teens about who to trust, Downfall is the same message to adults.

One of the things that I liked about the movie was that even though I knew what had happened, there was a lot of new information and new perspectives. To read about the fall of Berlin, to see photos, is one thing; to watch it, as people struggle, is different. By giving a full picture of Hitler, those around him, the last days -- it doesn't create sympathy for Hitler. It makes him more horrifying.

Since this was in German, with English subtitles, and I had only 2 years of high school German, it took me a while to figure out who people were beyond the obvious. And I'm still not sure which people were real and which were not. (My big question: the family at the dinner table? Real or not real?)

Other links: Discovery Channel on Hitler's Bunker.
Women of the Third Reich.

Born Into Brothels

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Zana Briski, a photographer, moved into a brothel in Calcutta intending to do a project about the prostitutes. Then she met their children. Zana begins to give the children photography lessons; this documentary is about the those classes, the children's photographs, and how this changed --and didn't change -- the lives of the children. Zana gets pulled into the children's struggle; not only does she try to help them with the photography classes and trips, she also tries to find schools for them so that they have a chance at a future outside the brothel.

What I liked about the DVD: these children will steal your heart! They have so much personality, their photos are amazing, and this documentary gives you a real look into their lives. Also, since time has passed since the documentary was shot, the DVD includes a feature called "Reconnecting: An Update of the Kids 3 Years Later."

What Zana did with these kids is real "empowerment" and "self esteem." She taught them a skill and an art, and through that, they empowered themselves. The photos these kids took are good; and that's why they achieved self esteem. And she was also willing to step in when the kids and their families couldn't do something themselves; mainly, in trying to get these kids into schools and also bringing the photos to the attention of the world.

Zana's project, Kids with Cameras, continues.

A book of the children's photos (same title) is available.

Eight Great Reasons To Make A Documentary, an article by the co-director of the film.

An interview with Briski from BBC World.

To be balanced, here is a different perspective, which is critical of the filmmakers.

Understanding The Holy Land

Understanding the Holy Land : Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Mitch Frank

Understanding the Holy Land is set up in a question and answer format. What I like about UHL (and about J and YA NF in general) is that at just over 150 pages it is concise and to the point. It gets to the heart of the matter. This is a complicated, complex, intricate subject; Frank, despite the brevity, writes honestly, truthfully and fairly about history, religion, ethnicity, race, and geography. It is obvious that Frank did a lot of research; because only by having an in depth understanding can someone write something that gets it all done in less than 200 pages.

Frank does his best to be fair and objective; based on other readings in this topic, I think he has succeeded. And for those who want to know more, there is a great bibliography. And, of course, there are plenty of maps and photos.

Perfect for anyone who reads the news about what is happening in Israel and has questions.

The Jewish Week has an interview with Frank, in the article The Conflict For Kids.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I am, of course, having my dress specially made. Off-the-rack gives me hives."
Cordelia, Ep: Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Wreath For Emmett Till

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy.

Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped and murdered. Two people were tried for the crime and, despite eyewitness testimony that one of those people had forcibly removed Emmett from his grandfather's home, and despite a motive, the two were acquitted. And later told a reporter the story of how they had killed Emmett.

What had Emmett done? Why were the murderers acquitted? Emmett was African American; he was a 14 year old, raised in Chicago. Emmett had gone for the summer to the South, to Money, Mississippi, to visit relatives. While there, he may, or may not, have whistled at a white woman.

Nelson's wreath is a series of sonnets: in particular, a heroic crown of sonnets. This is poetry that is structured and requires discipline; it is not easy to write. Each word, each syllable, is important. It doesn't just happen. It takes talent, it takes creativity, and it takes mastery of the form -- especially where, as here, each sonnet reads so smoothly. Art like this -- that requires time, patience, skill, dedication, practice, training, heart -- doesn't just happen.

Nelson says that this form became "a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say."

What is brilliant about Nelson is that the discipline and structure is what frees her. This series is heartbreaking, haunting, and evocative. To learn what happened to Emmett, to see the pictures of his body, to think about the horror of his final hours... the brain shuts down, the heart cannot bear it. And so Nelson has found a way to make it bearable; and in making it bearable, we can listen, and learn. Just as each syllable matters to achieve the heroic crown of syllable, each second of Emmett's life matters.

What else is good: Nelson expects things from the reader. She makes references that are important; she assumes the reader will know. She doesn't write down to the audience. (But she also includes wonderfully detailed Notes section, realizing that not everyone will get every reference.)

I also liked the artwork. It's symbolic, rather than realistic. In examining it, I had to think: why this? Why here? What is this adding? Like Nelson, Lardy has a note, explaining some of his artistic choices.

A must-own; a must-read.

Additional Information:

Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe.

PBS website, The Murder of Emmett Till.

Teacher's Guide for A Wreath for Emmett Till from Houghton Mifflin.

The Ghosts of Emmett Till by Richard Rubin (published in the New York Times Magazine) includes interviews with the jurors in the Till case.

And why, or why, isn't I'll Fly Away available on DVD? This series explored race relations and the Civil Rights Movement; it was amazing; and the series ending was devastating, and built around a slightly fictionalized version of the Till murder.

Zathura

Zathura is based on the book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Like Van Allsburg's Jumanji, the original book is a picture book.

The Plot: Two brothers start playing a game about outer space. And, like Jumanji, the game becomes real as meteors fly by and the house takes off into space. Will the boys be able to win the game and return home?

The Good: A solid storyline. Great special effects. I liked the sibling bond between the two brothers. Arguments, jealousy, hatred, and protectiveness. I saw a couple of twists coming (but then, I also guessed the big twist in Derailed based solely on previews.)

Family viewing: Zathura is PG. It's entertaining both for adults and for kids. I went with my five year old niece, who said it was the scariest movie she ever saw. And she wanted to see it again. There were three words that the brothers used that I hope don't register on her memory: nothing that bad and its believable that the boys would speak that way (My sister said I was being oversensitive, and I said OK, as long as I don't get in trouble!) Other than that, yep its scary; but its a good kid scary in that everything ends up OK in the end. (Using that as a measure, its less scary than some Goosebumps episodes.) In a way better than Finding Nemo, where the niece kept asking "what happened to the Mommy?"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Seven Alone

I saw the movie Seven Alone when I was in 5th grade. Dork that I was and am, I of course then had to read the book (alternate title: On To Oregon).

The Plot: The Sagers, a family with seven children, go on the Oregon Trail. Sadly, the parents die and the children must struggle on alone. They also struggle to stay together. Along the way, the rambunctious oldest son, John, learns to be responsible. At the end of the journey, a kindly couple takes them in. They have made it! They survived! And the family stayed together.

While I was a dork, and a library kid, finding and reading the book that the movie was based on was good enough for me.

Thank God. Because now that I am a grown up (or at least older), I wondered, hey, was that really based on a true story? Imagine my delight when I discovered that it was!

And it quickly turned to horror as I found out the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say.

The kindly couple that adopted the Sager children? Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.

Not realizing what happened yet?

In a nutshell: The Whitmans were missionaries. Narcissa was the first white woman to travel the Oregon trail, and also gave birth to the first white child in that area. And then, three years after the Sagers arrived, the Cayuse attacked the mission, in part because of a measles breakout that affected many Cayuse. Both Sager boys, John and Francis, were killed. The five girls were captured; one died of measles in captivity; the remaining four were ransomed and split up.

So much for my happy ending.

A detailed account can be found at the National Park Service website. Another good source is the Whitman Mission Historical Site website.

Across the Plains in 1844, Catherine Sager's first hand account of both her journey across North America, the massacre, and the aftermath.

A quick listing of who was killed and who survived the Whitman Massacre.

I guess it just goes to show that whether a story is happy or sad all depends on when you decide to say "the end." Does the story end when the Sagers reach the Whitmans? Or does it end later? Another thing I've learned: when I'm watching any movie or reading any book that takes place over 100 years ago, I say to myself at the beginning: no matter what happens, they'd be dead by now anyway. It's just a matter of how and when they die. So try not to get upset.

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 8,011

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Updates

The NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 6,062.

Current NaNoWriMo question: If I'm writing a YA book, is the wordcount less than 50,000?

Latest writing excuse: My sister had surgery.

Regarding wordcount and story: What I'm hoping to have at the end of the month is a rough (very rough!) draft of a YA horror book. Every time I get to something that may need research into Colonial times, Apocalypses, or how to keep demons out of your house, I'm just inserting a comment along the lines of "look this up later" or "do research to figure out x, y, z." I also have omitted much description. So I wonder, is December NaNoRevisingMonth? or NaNoEditingMonth?

And yes, my spell check accepted Apocalypses as a plural.

Almost forgot to add: that touching memory about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in my last post? One of the most significant book memories of my childhood? Of my Mom intentionally picking this book for me that I was going to love? Mom has NO MEMORY of it whatsoever. I told her the whole story and she just looked at me and shrugged.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

I first read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when I was in either third or fourth grade. I had missed the family visit to the library because I was sick, and my mother picked this one up for me. I doubt that I would have picked it up on my own because I thought the title sounded boring. But I was bored so I read it.

And fell in love with Narnia and Aslan and the possibility that a different world was just around the corner.

I quickly read thru the rest of the books, in the original order. (Which is the ONLY way to read them. Ignore those silly numbers on the recently published books!) I was bored by The Horse and His Boy, didn't get The Last Battle (tho after reading it again in High School, FB has turned into one of my favorites), and liked the explanations found in The Magician's Nephew. But aside from that, I loved, loved, loved the series.

I recently reread LWW. I read it with a bit of fear: would I still love, love, love it? Would I be reading it with an adult eye, wincing at flaws? Would I say, what was I thinking? I have reread favorites from childhood and have been let down by the experience, so much so that each reread is entered into with equal parts fear and hope: fear that it won't be what it was, hope that it will stand up.

LWW stands up.

I had forgotten that the narrator speaks to the reader, in a way similar to The Tale of Despereaux and Lemony Snicket. And I still felt the excitement as coats made way for trees. I was surprised at the violence and how well Lewis described the battle without going overboard. No matter what anyone else says, I still think of Turkish Delight as fudge. I love that the children grow up in Narnia and return home accidentally.

And while I'm aware now of the Christian symbolism, I wasn't when I read it as a child; and it was much less than I thought it would be. (And by the way, I disagree with Philip Pullman about Narnia, Lewis & Christianity.)

The movie based on the book is coming out in December.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Spike: (as Harmony lights up a cigarette) Taking up smoking, are you?
Harmony: I am a villain, Spike. Hello!
Ep: Out Of My Mind

To Smoke Or Not To Smoke

Thanks to LISnews, I found this site about how a photograph of illustrator Clement Hurd on Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon has been changed on the latest edition. A cigarette that Hurd was holding has disappeared. When you go to the site, you find out that most respondents agree with the cigarette being removed.

Prior instances of photo alteration include removing a cigarette from a photo of Robert Johnson for a stamp.

Most of the people voting on the Hurd site -- with or without cigarette -- say without.

And at the same time, this study came out saying Movies Heavily Shape Teen Smoking.

Here's my issue, and why I'm bringing it up here. I have a big problem with changing a photo to appear to be something it isn't. If people aren't comfortable with, say, a photo of Hurd smoking -- find another photo. Or don't use a photo at all. But to change history? To give a false impression? That's just not right.

And while I appreciate the concern in the study about teen views towards smoking, I cannot help but think that there are many things, in books and movies for teens, that people have problems with. The reasons that parents give for wanting a book banned usually include the argument that if a teen reads about it, she/he will be influenced to do it: hence, a book shouldn't include sex. Or drugs. Or bad language. Or dangerous things. Or fill in the blank with the particular concern of the parent making the challenge.

And the response we librarians, authors, publishers give is usually that the book reflects real life. It wouldn't be authentic to omit these things. Or, this gives a teen a way to read about it and experience it without doing it. Or its clear that a lesson is being taught. Or, whatever the other reason is, it is a defense that says: keep the book. If the parent doesn't want the child engaging in that behavior, well, we say -- you're either blind to the reality your child lives in (kids use that language all the time!) or its up to you as the parent to instill values (you teach kids no sex before marriage, leave the book alone).

Me, I'm in the keep the book camp.

Which is why anyone raising a reason -- no matter how good -- to change a photo, or to limit what may appear in movies or books or TV -- using the argument "we have to protect the kids, they are being influenced by this" comes under very heavy scrutiny from me.

For example, here with the smoking: if you're willing to have the photos altered; if you're willing to say, teen books or movies shouldn't include smoking because teens will be influenced and that is bad, how can you tell the parent who is concerned about sex or drugs in teen movies and books that it's OK to have and keep the movie or book about sex or drugs? But having smoking in the book or movie is too dangerous?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Moon Child

The hell?

Moon Child is a Japanese movie set in the future. There are vampires. Street gangs. Stylistic gun fights that look very, very pretty. Really bad haircuts. The glances between the two male leads have more heat than the looks either give the woman who is supposedly in the middle of a love-triangle.

Oh, and I didn't pick up until the last ten minutes that ethnic conflicts were a big deal. I didn't realize that there were Taiwanese/Japanese conflicts going on, in part because the subtitles didn't indicate when someone was speaking Cantonese and when someone was speaking Japanese and every now and then someone said "Don't speak Japanese!" and at the end I realized, oh, that's important.

And the leads are two Japanese pop stars, Gackt and HYDE, and Gackt wears more makeup then the female lead.

And there's this night visit to the beach where everyone acts like a 90210 episode, or at least the opening credits.

And there's a drug trip with a huge flying fish, I'm not sure what that meant.

And some very interesting shots that were appealing visually.

Unfortunately, the story was all over the place with jumps of years that made no sense and an ending that left me cold, when I think I was supposed to be crying. Still, this is such a weird mix of elements and possibilities that it's worth viewing.

A fanboy review here, and two more objective reviews here and here. This review at Midnight Eye points out the "strangely homoerotic symbiosis between the androgynous two leads"; glad it wasn't just me who noticed it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why My Word Count Is Low

I went shopping. With my sister and mother and without the kids.

And I strayed from my usual Dansko.

Instead I got a pair of Frye boots:




















And a pair of Born boots:



But before you think I neglected Dansko I did make these purchases earlier this fall:




and:


(It's the kid's picture, but I couldn't find the womans picture).

And so that's why the wordcount isn't at 10,000, which is what it should be at a steady pace.

What's either your excuse for your wordcount, or your great tip on how to keep focused?

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 4391

Ice Princess

Ice Princess is a fun movie. It's rated G.

The Plot: Casey (played by Buffy alum Michelle Trachtenburg) is a physics nerd and loves watching figure skating. She has the chance to win a national physics scholarship if she comes up with the perfect physics project; she decides to study skating to see if it can be broken down to the physics involved. Along the way, Casey applies her studies to herself and surprises everyone by discovering this is something she is actually good at. The problem: her mother is convinced that Casey's road to success and happiness is thru higher education, not skating.

The Good: I love that a movie can be G and fun for everyone watching. I like that this movie goes beyond stereotypes about mean girls and popular girls. And I like that despite the initial conflict in Casey's life -- school or sports? -- their is a solution. I also liked the questions Casey faced: what is friendship? Who can she trust? What is her dream, and what is her mother's dream? It also addresses the issue that just because someone is good at something doesn't mean they love doing it.

Extra fun facts: based on a story co-written by Meg Cabot.

Several episodes of BTVS mention Buffy's love of ice skating and Ice Capades . "Look, I know you guys think it’s just a big, dumb, girlie thing, but it’s not. I mean, a lot of those skaters are Olympic medal winners. And every year my dad buys me cotton candy and one of those souvenir programs that has all the pictures, and okay, it’s a big, dumb, girlie thing, but I love it.”

My favorite ice skating movie: The Cutting Edge (Toepick!).

NaNoWriMo wordcount: an extremely pathetic 2215.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels is Libba Bray's latest book. It is a companion to A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Is it really more a companion than a sequel? It's hard for me to judge, since I did read (and love) AGATB. I think RA does indeed stand alone... but I also lent RA to my sister and will let you know if she comes back confused or satisfied.

The Plot: OK, it was really difficult to try to explain the plot in a few sentences. I've written and deleted for the last ten minutes. Here's my best try, and yes I'm leaving a lot out: It's Christmastime in Victorian England, where Gemma attends an exclusive boarding school. But Gemma isn't your typical Victorian teen. Part of her being different is she was born and raised in India; part is because of her mother's tragic death the prior year. But she also possesses magic; she can go from our world into a realm of magic full of myth and beauty. And something dark and dangerous has gotten loose, and it's up to Gemma to try to save and protect both the magic realms and our world.

The Good: RA is full of historic details, so while magic is afoot RA is also a solid work of historical fiction.

And, thank you Libba Bray, the world of magic is fully realized. It is originally an escape for Gemma and her friends, but it becomes clear that the realm of magic is as complex, and full of contradictions, as is our own world.

Whenever the girls go into the other realm, I am reminded of the movie Heavenly Creatures. (except, of course, no brutal murder of parents. And in RA it's not fantasy, it's real. But HC shows just how attractive this type of escape is to teenage girls.)

Also good is that Gemma is far from perfect. She is impatient, judgmental, she wants friends. She's impulsive. She likes a bit of fun. She's not sure of the right answers. She's fumbling. But she is also take action girl, and she's brave, and she's loyal. And she values the truth.

The Cynsations (Cynthia Leitich Smith) interview is here. It's interesting because Bray discusses her inspiration, the writing process, favorite books... and mentions Buffy. Plus, she's funny.

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 1965. Just over 48,000 to go!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rome II

In my excitement about Rome I didn't mention why I loved this show.

1. The buddy chemistry between Vorenus and Pullo, the two soldiers who show us the "regular" people POV. The have little in common, and don't even really like each other, but there's something there. I would watch it if it was simply The Vorenus and Pullo Show. Actually, considering the lost Egyptian year, that could be a spin off one season series: The Adventures of Vorenus and Pullo in Egypt.

2. But it can't be the V&P show alone, because Ciaran Hinds is hot. (Don't believe me? Then you obviously have never watched Ivanhoe or Persuasion.) His Caesar is nuanced, strong, plotting. You sympathize and root for him because hello, he's Caesar, but at the same time, you see his thirst for power, for honor, for glory. And you're a little scared.

3. Historical fiction usually takes place in the past but has people with modern day sensibilities. Not here; it's not as if they have no morals. It's that the morals are not ours, and this difference is portrayed realistically, sympathetically, and without judgment.

4. "It's been a year..." Series usually play by the time rules. "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday." If we're having Thanksgiving, the people in TV are also. China Beach ditched the convention and myth of tracking the show to when the people are viewing. But not many TV shows take advantage of the fact that the writers control the timeline and reality of the show. Lost is doing it right now, with only about 40 days passing in over one season. But that is rare. So to watch this show and have one character note in passing that a year has gone by since the prior scene is awesome. (Tho quibble: so far characters don't look like much time has gone by.)

5. The official description of Atia says she is "totally amoral." I disagree. I wouldn't want her to be my mother; wouldn't wish her on anyone I know. But in the time in which she lived, in a time of violence, of little power for women -- she is doing what she can to survive and insure the survival of her children. Especially her son, because she is realistic to know that her family's survival depends on him. That someone who could easily be amoral is portrayed with dimension is fantastic.

6. Mark Antony is cute, yes; but so far, I haven't seen why he's all that. He's brave and wants to fight and can fight, but so far, he hasn't shown the political chops that Caesar has.

7. The person playing Octavian is brilliant. It's the mix of awkward teen and brilliance. This is the character where we clearly see the passage of time, as he matures.

8. I know what's going to happen to all these people, but I still watch wondering what will happen next.

NaNoWriMo wordcount: 863.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Real love isn't brains, children, it's blood; it's blood screaming inside you to work it's will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
-- Spike, Ep: Lover's Walk
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